poetry, Publishing

Formatting Poetry for Publication

One of the lovely things about being involved in an online writing community is knowing that should I be asked a question I cannot answer, I can reach out to someone who can answer. Cynthia Bagley was gracious enough to write the following in response to my request, as I know very little about formatting (or for that matter, writing!) poetry. If you are curious, you can find her work here

Formatting Poetry for digital publishing

 

The first echapbook I published in May 13, 2011 was A Flicker of Hope: Poems Written by a Wegener’s Granulomatosis Survivor. Before this ambitious endeavor, I had had been sending poetry to small literary magazines like Acumen and Bibliophilos. I even had a few published. But, in 2011 I decided to get into the digital publishing craze. What I didn’t realize was that publishing poetry had its own unique challenges.

The first thing to remember about poetry publishing is that it is a work of love. Poetry has one of the lowest audiences of all the writing genres in the US. Think literary and then think a small slice of literary and you have your audience. So even if you make mistakes, you are probably the worst critic of your own work. If the poetry is good, the audience usually doesn’t notice the formatting mistakes.

The next thing to remember is that if you are using Word or other processing program, it is good to start with the nuclear option found in Smashwords Style Guide by Mark Coker.

 

Nuclear Option: 

In the nuclear option, you copy your text to notepad, and then copy it back to the Word program. It completely strips out all of the coding, which includes bolding and any other special codes.

First you need to enable the “reveal code” option. Depending on the word processing program you use, you can find the information online. The reveal code option helps you to see if you add any unwanted or extra codes that will cause problems with your formatting.

Next you need to turn off your autoformatting. Turning off autoformatting is different for different Word programs, so you need to look this up on the microsoft site. Autoformatting is when you change a phrase to bold or italic and the whole page changes. If your don’t want to find the correct procedure to turn it off, you can just hit back and the autoformat will go to your change. It can be annoying.

Lastly  never use tabs. They cause problems with the meatgrinder in Smashwords, but also when you ready your work for Amazon kindle.

It is a good idea to read the style guide because at this point prose and poetry can have the same formatting problems.

 

Formatting Poetry:

Line Breaks vs. Paragraph Breaks

There are some particular problems for formatting that are peculiar to poetry. First problem is line breaks versus paragraph breaks. When you hit the enter key on your computer, you are getting an actual paragraph break. You can change the line width between stanzas (strophes) by right clicking on the paragraph, hit paragraph in the list, and go to line spacing. Here you can also change indent and spacing.

Indentation is not the same as a tab. When you change the indentation, it will only indent the first line of the paragraph.

If you change the line spacing to “6 pt after,” the poem will look like the following:

 

Concrete Ants

 

Tiny black insects

we used to call sugar ants

swarm food

left on the sidewalk

 

Scurry back to roomy tunnels

under the concrete

 

To most poets there is too much spacing between the lines and makes the poem look sloppy. I type a paragraph break at each strophe (stanza), which is the enter key. Then I type a line break after each line in the strophe (stanza) A line break is “shift-enter.” Hold shift key down and then hit enter to get a “shift-enter.”

So it would look like the following with a line break:

 

Concrete Ants

Tiny black insects
we used to call sugar ants
swarm food
left on the sidewalk

Scurry back to roomy tunnels
under the concrete

 

The line break vs. paragraph break is the biggest problem with formatting poetry.

 

Center vs. Left Justified

Usually I left-justify my poetry because I started digitally publishing on blogs and websites. Center just didn’t look right in those venues. It is a matter of taste. This one is centered.

 

Concrete Ants

Tiny black insects
we used to call sugar ants
swarm food
left on the sidewalk

Scurry back to roomy tunnels
under the concrete

 

Images and Concrete poetry

Concrete poetry (poetry that makes an image) is the hardest to format. Since you can’t use tabs, you will have to use a combination of paragraph formatting and indentation. I don’t write this type of poetry. I do know there are poets who make beautiful images. I have to admit that my creativity fails on that type of poetry.

If you want to put photos in your poetry, you need to anchor the photo image onto the page. How to anchor photos is in the Smashwords Style Guide. It is extremely hard to do and I was smart enough to only try that idea once. If I do it again, I will give myself a lot of time to try and fail.

 

The key to formatting an echapbook is to start with a clean word processing page so that the codes don’t interact in strange and wonderful ways. Just knowing the difference between line breaks and paragraph breaks, I have more control on how my poetry looks.